The reggae/ska/rock classic “Message in a Bottle” was written by Sting for the Police’s second album, Reggatta de Blanc (1979), and it became the group’s first Number One hit in the UK. Cynthia Lin came up with this percolating solo arrangement in 2015 and liked the song enough to suggest putting a new version of it on the U3 album, In Waves.
BY CYNTHIA LIN | FROM THE WINTER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE
When I discovered that I could play the riff for “Message in a Bottle” on a low-G-tuned uke, I became obsessed with mastering it. I think this song may have converted me into a low-G player.
The first step to playing this riff smoothly is to find the barre chord shape that ties the intervals together. Then you need to get comfortable with sliding that shape around on the fretboard, which takes a lot of finger strength.
For a riff of this speed, it’s important to work on timing accuracy by practicing slowly with a metronome. I like to set the metronome so that each click is an eighth note—some metronome apps do this for you automatically, but on a classic metronome that is set for quarter notes, you need to double the bpm and play half time. For example, if I want to play this riff at a final tempo of 128 bpm, I would practice at 100 bpm, but I set the metronome at 200 bpm so that each click has an eighth-note value.
By practicing this way, you’ll hear exactly where each note in the riff should land, including the hammer-on. Mastering the riff at a slow tempo is the only way you’ll ever be able to play it fast.
The vocals have an entirely separate rhythm, so it will take a lot of slow metronome practice to merge the singing and playing. When in doubt, turn the metronome slower!
I love the visual imagery in this song, and the rich universal “message” that we are never alone in our loneliness or our longing for love.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the Winter 2020 issue, you will find the music on page 52.
To purchase this issue, go the Ukulele mag store!
If you learned something new here, will you leave us a tip? We're asking you to give just $2 (or whatever you can afford) to support this site.